These Are the Best Bread Cloches for Crispy Sourdough, Based on Our Tests
When you've got a little time at home, whipping up some freshly baked bread is one of the most satisfying and simple cooking projects we can recommend. Once you've let your dough rise and kneaded it to the perfect consistency, a bread cloche can help it bake into a crispy, crunchy loaf. Traditionally, a cloche is an unglazed stoneware dome that is first soaked in water and then placed over the dough as it's baking, to mimic the quality of a professional oven. These containers are meant to support the dough while they bake for a perfect rise and crispy crust.
A solid bread cloche should have a tight-fitting lid that can trap steam—giving the bread a crackly, blistered, golden-brown crust. It should also have a heavy-duty bottom that ensures a thick, crispy, golden base.
In search of the best bread cloche, we tested a few of the most popular bread baking vessels using a traditional sourdough recipe. The cloches we tested ran the gamut from cast iron to silicone, with shapes that ranged from deep and circular to rectangular or oval. Instead of the traditional clay, we found that our favorite bakeware was made of cast iron, and the Challenger Bread Pan surpassed our expectations as the overall best. This cloche trapped enough steam during baking for a crispy, golden crust and springy crumb. Read on for more on how we tested the best bread cloches.
Our Top Picks
Overall, our testers found that the Challenger Bread pan (view on the manufacturer's site) was the easiest to use, clean, and care for, and it produced our favorite loaves of bread. The lid sealed completely to lock in the right amount of moisture, and the cast iron material imparted a crispy, golden crust.
Factors to Consider
Bread cloches come in a variety of different styles, from clay Römertopfs to cast iron boule bakers to versatile, multifunctional Dutch ovens. Having a devoted bread cloche is an easy way to make restaurant-quality fresh bread at home, but a Dutch oven can serve as a multipurpose solution as well. Before selecting the best bread cloche for you, make sure to assess how often you'll use it and what style of bread, from baguette to bâtard to boule, you intend to use it for. If you prefer circular boule styles, a Dutch oven is a viable option. If you want something with more room to play with shapes like a longer baguette or a rectangular loaf, you'll need a cloche that allows for different styles.
The design and overall ease of use play a huge factor in selecting a bread cloche, and we took both into consideration in our testing. Low-sided pans make it safer to score the dough without burning your wrists on the hot pan, and convenient handles are a must when handling pre-heated cast iron.
Traditionally, bread cloches are made from unglazed stoneware that gets soaked in water. The dome shape helps trap in moisture, and the steam gives the bread its crispy texture. However, bread cloches can also be made from cast iron, silicone, and ceramic, and we tested one of each. Though silicone is flexible and can yield different shapes, we preferred the durable and heavy-duty cast iron, because the dark material imparted a rich, golden color on the bread.
A tight seal is essential for creating crusty bread, so we evaluated each cloche on its accompanying lid. Bread cloches should have a solid, heavy-duty cover that traps in moisture and doesn't let steam escape. Our least favorite loaves were baked in cloches that leaked steam, resulting in flatter bread.
We put these bread cloches to the test by trying out a trusty, basic sourdough recipe in each. We ranked them by how convenient they were to use and clean and how heavy they were to transfer in and out of the oven. We assessed the quality of the different materials and the effects that material had on the color of the loaf. Lastly, we assessed the shape of the cloche and how effectively each lid trapped in steam as well as the quality of the resulting loaf.
Three of them produced stellar results: The Challenger is best for the baker who's looking for reliably flawless boules and bâtards; the Lodge is our versatile value pick that resulted in bread just as beautiful and delicious as the kitchen splurges, and the Le Creuset is a reliable workhorse for first-time bakers that you may already have in your kitchen.
What Didn't Make the List
Antara Sinha, the author of this piece, is a cooking editor with four years of experience writing for brands like Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Cooking Light Magazine. She used her own expertise as well as the results gathered during testing to make these recommendations. Recipe editor and developer Paige Grandjean evaluated the bread cloches on this list, baking sourdough loaves in each one and rating them on quality and convenience. In her six years working at the Meredith Food Studios, she has tested and developed more than 2,500 recipes for over 15 nationally distributed magazine brands including Food & Wine, Real Simple, Eating Well, Southern Living, and People.